Stores that hand out five gallon buckets for free

free buckets from sushi shop

We wrote an article back in 2012 with some suggestions for the type of places where you can pick up five gallon buckets for free. The general advice given there still applies, but it’s useful perhaps if we give you a list of stores where people have had success picking up five gallon buckets for free.

We definitely recommend getting buckets for free. You’re not just doing yourself a favor, these buckets you get for free would probably end up in a landfill somewhere, where they slowly decay. Nobody wants plastic to get into our environment!

To save you some work, we compiled a list of stores that hand out their buckets for free. We also have a list of stores that don’t hand them out. Some stores recycle their buckets, other send them back to the manufacturers, others might have their own reasons.

Stores that hand out free buckets

People have had success picking up five gallon buckets for free at the following stores:

  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Tim Hortons
  • Chick-Fil-A
  • Sam’s Club
  • Wendy’s
  • The bakery at Kroger
  • The bakery at Walmart
  • The bakery at Meijer
  • Safeway

Stores that generally don’t hand out free buckets

Some places where people did not have success picking up five gallon buckets are:

  • Cosco – Apparently they return them to the manufacturer.
  • Walmart – Walmart tends not to be cooperative when you call them, but they do have buckets available if you visit the bakery.
  • McDonalds – They said they don’t give them out.
  • Golden Corral – Apparently don’t get any 5 gallon buckets.
  • SubWay – Don’t get their pickles in buckets.

This list is not complete. Hopefully some of you who managed to get their five gallon buckets for free can share your experiences in the comments below, so that we can add to it.

If all else fails

We really recommend trying to get your bucket for free, but if the above stores don’t get you anywhere, you can simply order buckets over at Amazon for a reasonable price too.



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41 thoughts on “Stores that hand out five gallon buckets for free

  1. Find a local corrugated box company like International Paper. They have large amounts of 5 gallon buckets to give away. Most of them will be black in color, but they will be free.

  2. Most local donut shops will have plenty of buckets available for the asking. Around here you can’t hardly drive a mile without tripping on a Daylight Doughnut shop. They come with various fillings and icing in them.

    • I get my buckets from the bakery at the local Kroger affiliated store. They are not five gallon, they are 3.5 gallon, and they are food grade buckets. I prefer to get the ones with the metal handle (bail) as there is less worry a handle will break and the contents be spilled onto the floor. In my experience the ones that had chocolate frosting are difficult to clean and get rid of the frosting smell. I only take the ones that had white or glazed frosting. Some people are anal/adamant/OCD that buckets must be square because they stack better and take up less room. Ok, that is their preference. When buying buckets from prepper suppliers they pay more for square buckets than round buckets. I’m not that particular about shape, mine stack just fine. Normally, I line the clean bucket with a mylar food storage bag, and then put in about 25 pounds of grains, sugar or beans. I also store packages of other food items like cake mixes or bags of coffee in these buckets. When a bucket is emptied in the kitchen pantry I bring in a bucket from storage and swap lids from the empty to the full. This is so I can use the easy to open GAMMA lids for the buckets in the pantry. The empty buckets are washed out, aired out for a day or two and then refilled.

    • I got the smell out of mine, it takes a few days switching from heavy duty degreaser then to car wash soap then bleach. If you have a few buckets just pour them from one to the next or you could get a maleodor neutrailizer and spray it in then use a lid. I use that all the time since i live in a rual area & we get skunks that spray off.

      • Washing with heavy duty degreaser and car wash soap does not sound safe as the plastic could absorb the chemicals. This would no longer make it food grade. Something to think about. I think just soaking a small amount of bleach in them would be best!

    • They’re $2 and all the money goes to Firehouse’s charity that buys equipment for first responders. The buckets themselves are high quality, with gasket lids.

  3. I’m over 70 now & some things in 5 gallon buckets are just to heavy for me to lift. Many bakeries will give you 2.5 gal. buckets that are much easier to lift. (Getting old is not for sissies.)

  4. Visit places where they prepare ‘bulk’ food, like hospitals, nursing homes, schools and food pantries most of them will have a plethora of 5 gallon buckets, both food grade and ones that contained cleaners… Just approach the food service manager and/or maintenance manager, and see if they will set them next to the dumpster for you to pick up…

  5. We were in Meijer today and we happen to see a lady with a cart from the bakery with about 6 buckets on it. She was taking them to the back of the store, so we ask if we could have them or even buy them for a dollar or two and she had to call to see if she could give them to us but was told no they had to be crashed down and thrown away. We just couldn’t believe that.

  6. I work for a restaurant in Canada…well, I’ve worked for more than a few restaurants. They’re usually disposed of in recycling pins right outside the restaurant. We really don’t care if you grab them from the recycling. I’ve grabbed many for myself and friends.

  7. Deli’s have pickle buckets. I also have bought laundry detergent in 3.5g. buckets which will store 12 cans. Auto repair shops have 55g. drums of hand soap. A good cleaning and bleach and rinse and you have water drums.

  8. Wendy’s doesn’t have food buckets. I’ve worked there for 4 years in 2 different states. They only have some open containers for chillies for food prep that they plastic wrap at close but not the preping kind your talking about. I’ll try the Dunkin donuts though there is one down the street from me.

  9. Nuways sell them for $1 a bucket. Sometimes you ca make a deal with them to pick them up regularly, or have them call when they have several.

  10. I tried to get some from WinCo, but they said they won’t allow people to take them for fear of being sued if they aren’t cleaned properly and someone gets sick. *rolls eyes* What have we become as a society?

  11. Try your local school parks and recreation! Hundreds of buckets every year to paint/line the sports fields! Not food grade but plenty of them!

  12. I found buckets free at my local pool supply store. They had chlorine tablets in them. Fill them up with water for a couple days. Then dump the water out and leave in the sun for a couple of more days. No more strong chlorine smell.

  13. Check with animal shelters also they don’t always have them but they do get kitty litter buckets they aren’t always 5gallon buckets but allot of the time they have built on lids

  14. Catering companies always have pickle buckets and large wide mouth glass jars from olives or pickles. I have a friend who keeps me supplied with both, and I run the jars and lids through the dishwasher to get rid of the pickle smell, but the buckets I let sit outside, open, in the rain and sun for a couple of months. Then I wash them down with bleach water. No smell to deal with. They have good plastic handles, not little strappy ones, so I am content that they will not break.

  15. Chick Fil A here says they have to destroy all their buckets. Walmart and local grocery bakeries get 2-3 gal smaller buckets but will give them out or sell them. The local gas stations that do food sometimes have buckets but usually smaller sizes. The only place I have seen 5 gal is from local donut shops.

  16. Chinese restaurants get their soy sauce in 5 gallon buckets – most managers will be happy to sell them to you. If you want them for free (and don’t have a friend that speaks Mandarin or Cantonese) just be prepared to check the dumpsters on a regular basis. . .

  17. If you live in an area, when they have a Firehouse Subs, they sell their washed pickle buckets, with a lid and an O-ring for $2. The money is put into Firemen’s Charities for Widows and Children of Firemen.

  18. If you are NOT looking for food grade buckets, Menards sells theirs for around 2 bucks on sale. 2.50 not on sale. I use them as dry storage for many “camping” and “shooting” items. As I said, they are not food grade buckets, but are new and clean.

  19. I get a lot of kitty litter buckets from trash dumpsters. Just rinse them out first. Any food being stored is first vacuum sealed in plastic. They are also ideal for packing breakable or odd shaped items for moving

  20. I was told that it’s illegal to take anything from a dumpster without owner permission. Same goes for Herbies, the trash bins on wheels. I don’t know if it holds true for the stuff you’d find on the ground next to them.

  21. I got 5 gal. Buckets for free. They had oil in them if anyone has a use for them we have about 1000 of them and get them every can call me at 214-451-7392.

  22. You could try any local pool or water parks, if they use chlorine tablets then those typically come in 5 gallon buckets, most places just toss them. Give them a good rinse and they are good to use, as a teacher been using them as flexible seating options for my kiddos and they hold up fine.

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